Turning (recycled) water into wine

Read the full story from the University of Delaware.

With a diminishing supply of safe freshwater in many areas, and increasing periods of drought that further limit that supply, we are facing a dilemma. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farming uses consume nearly 80 percent of our available water. Now, producers and agricultural researchers are searching for alternative irrigation sources to limit this consumption and extend our water supply.

One solution is to irrigate crops using treated wastewater, otherwise known as reclaimed or recycled water. This recycled water, highly purified though perhaps not as pristine as drinking water, could be the key to a successful crop yield during times of drought when conventional freshwater is unavailable.

But, while recycled water is widely used in some countries — by 2012, 85% of the effluent in Israel was recycled — it has yet to be widely adopted in the U.S., due at least in part to concerns about consumer response.

According to Kent Messer, professor of applied economics and director of the Center for Experimental and Applied Economics at the University of Delaware, current trends suggest that consumers are taking more and more interest not only in the nutritional value of food but also how it was produced. Grocery stores are lined with foods touting free range, organic, or shade grown production. Food labels soon could include the type of water used to irrigate and grow the product and, indeed, some blueberries and cut flowers already include information about irrigation sources.

To explore responses to water use in food production, Messer and his team of researchers from UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources looked at consumers’ willingness to pay for wine made from grapes irrigated with both conventional and recycled water.

The research was recently published in the journal Ecological Economics.

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